Hand Tool Journey #10: First Hand-Cut Dovetails

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Blog entry by Blake posted 12-12-2009 07:58 PM 8917 reads 4 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Stanley No. 62 Restored, Bench Finished! Part 10 of Hand Tool Journey series Part 11: Turn of the Century Disston Dovetail Saw »

I finally got a chance to practice hand-cutting dovetails. This is the first time I’ve made a cut with my new Japanese dovetail saw and use my new bench too.

I started out with a couple scrap pieces of pine:


I drew the tails:


First cut… didn’t follow the line so well. It will take some getting used to.


Here are all the cuts. Some are pretty good and some are pretty far off the line.


This photo is AWESOME. Because as you can see, I did a beautiful job at chopping away my tails (instead of the waste). Notice the X’s that should not be intact…


Ok, take TWO…

Not even close:


A lot better:


Chop, Chop, Chop:


Not bad for 2nd try:


Cutting the pins went well. It is easier to saw straight down vertically then at an angle like the tails. Here are the pins being chopped:


It did take a little chisel work to get them to fit but not too much.

And here it is (first completed hand-cut dovetails)


-- Happy woodworking!

14 comments so far

View Cory's profile


760 posts in 3655 days

#1 posted 12-12-2009 08:02 PM

looks pretty good to me, Blake. I’ve never done dovetails of any kind, much less hand cut. With your skills you should be a pro after a few more attempts.

How do you flush them up? Sanding?

-- The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

View John Stegall's profile

John Stegall

514 posts in 3752 days

#2 posted 12-12-2009 08:08 PM

It turned out good. My first set I could one end backwards. After that I learned to mark the insides or outsides of my boards. I think I made a box…not sure. I practiced on maple because soft woods like pine were too hard to cut to the line. I never really got very good at it, but I did learn how to hide the gaps when necessary.

-- jstegall

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4110 days

#3 posted 12-12-2009 08:09 PM

you flush them with a block plane

-- Happy woodworking!

View Mark's profile


27 posts in 3689 days

#4 posted 12-12-2009 09:31 PM

Hey Blake,

They ended up looking not too bad…I am just about to attempt my first dovetails as well on my first project that I will be posting soon.


-- Mark, Sydney, Australia

View lew's profile


12495 posts in 3991 days

#5 posted 12-12-2009 09:42 PM


Wish my first (second, third, for…..) attempts were this good!

Nice Job! Really like the little brass layout jig.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View FlWoodRat's profile


732 posts in 4145 days

#6 posted 12-12-2009 09:50 PM

Blake, you did a great job on those DTs. FYI, I find it easier to cut the pins first, then the tails. Paring blocks make it very easy to clean up the cheeks on the tenons and the pins. You can prevent the tear out of the shoulder cut if you only chop out half way, then flip the board and chop out from the other side. When you do chop out the waste on the first side, don’t take it from the outside end of the waste area. Pare down from about half way from the end. This leaves some support of the waste for when you flip the board. Hope this helps and keep up the good work.


-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning....

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4057 days

#7 posted 12-13-2009 01:42 AM

Blake, those look pretty good to me. I have worked on dovetails a lot like I started on Sketchup- a lot of starting and stopping without producing anything that is anywhere near as good as this. This is an inspiration to “get back into the saddle” and try again.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1577 posts in 3800 days

#8 posted 12-13-2009 02:54 AM

Looks like a good first attempt Blake, now do that every night after work and you will be pretty darn good by next weekend. Great bench too.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3908 days

#9 posted 12-13-2009 02:57 AM

Blake nice work, looks better than my first attempt try at hand cut dovetails.

View Chips's profile


199 posts in 3948 days

#10 posted 12-13-2009 02:57 AM

Lots better than my first.

-- Make every day the best day of your life. Chips, Mississippi

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4325 days

#11 posted 12-13-2009 06:09 PM

I have been learning how to do this in my class.

My tips so far: When cutting tails the most critical factor is staying square across the top. If you miss the angled line, it is not important as that will just be the template for your pins. Square up these cuts by paring before moving on to tracing your pins.

When cutting the pins, split the line on the waste side concentrating on a square vertical line this time. Then the two pieces will mate.

When chopping out the waste. Start on the inside of the joint. and finish coming in from the outside to avoid chipout.

Yours look pretty good.

One suggestion: make your tails wider than your pins for visual impact.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4110 days

#12 posted 12-13-2009 06:19 PM


-- Happy woodworking!

View CharlesNeil's profile


2468 posts in 4106 days

#13 posted 12-13-2009 06:50 PM

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4110 days

#14 posted 12-13-2009 07:32 PM

Thanks CharlesNeil! Great newsletter. I like the block you clamped around your stock for horizontal chopping. I’ve never seen that before.

-- Happy woodworking!

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